The Orgasm Gap, and How to Bridge It – A Guest Post by Dr. Zhana
The orgasm gap between men and women is pretty staggering. Across a representative sample of Americans, for example, over 90% of men of all ages reported having an orgasm during their most recent partnered sex compared to only about 65% of women.
Furthermore, while over 85% of men report orgasming often (more than 75% of the time) when having sex with a familiar partner, this was true for only half of heterosexual and bisexual women. A full fifth of women reported not orgasming ever or rarely (less than 25% of the time), compared to only 7% of the men. Lesbians had higher rates of orgasm than straight and bisexual women, though still lower than men.
So what’s responsible for this orgasm gap, and how do we bridge it? I’ll go over some major problems in our collective way of thinking about orgasm and some suggestions for possible solutions to help even out this gap.
Problem #1: Toxic Beliefs About the Unimportance of the Female Orgasm
Both men and women carry internalized beliefs that the sex is mostly or primarily done for male pleasure, that the sex ends when the man comes, and that the woman’s orgasm is just not that important. Inherent in this belief is the assertion that women can have just as much fun during sex without the “cherry on the top.” Certainly, orgasm is not the be-all and end-all of sex, and people of all sexes can enjoy sex without climaxing. However, sexual interactions that end with an orgasm are six times more likely to be rated as “very satisfying” by women than those that don’t.
Women must start embracing their right to pleasure. And the responsibility is on all of us, as individuals and as a society to encourage and support this in our friends, lovers, sisters, daughters, mothers, students, readers, listeners, viewers…whoever we have access to and in whichever way we can access them. Our lack of emphasis on the clitoris serves a phallocentric ideal that orgasm for women should be found by the same activity by which men achieve orgasm.
With density of nerve endings far greater than the penis, who wouldn’t want to explore such a power-packed pleasure potential?
Problem #2: A Lack of Sexual Self-Knowledge About How to Orgasm
Sigmund Freud’s prejudices against the clitoral orgasm as immature notwithstanding, modern science shows that most women (perhaps as many as 70%) don’t orgasm from vaginal stimulation alone. While vaginal penetration often provides a welcome additional pleasure, most women require some type of clitoral stimulation to climax whether from oral sex; touching (by partner or by oneself) before, during, or after intercourse; or by incorporating various vibrators and other toys. Sadly, many women (and men) are almost completely unaware of this fact.
This lack of education about the nature of the female orgasm is reflected in a disappointing reality about the low rate of masturbation practices in women as compared to men. Statistics from a nationally representative sample of US adults ages 18 to 59 show that anywhere between 50% and 70% of women (depending on age) did not masturbate at all in the past year, compared to only 20% – 30% of men.
Try different types of toys. LELO has an excellent selection of top-quality toys to choose from. Get adult sex education, whether in person at workshops at sex toy stores like The Pleasure Chest and Babeland; with sex educators like my business partner, Kenneth Play; online with training apps like OMGYes or, or from books like I Love Female Orgasm, Come As You Are, and She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman.
Watch porn for ideas, especially ethical porn where performers are treated well, show real sex and pleasure for people of all genders, and showcase a diversity of bodies, genders, and sexual preferences (here are some suggestions for where and how to find it). Most importantly, have some R&D (research & development) sessions with your partner(s), where you specifically devote time to figuring out whether certain activities, positions, or toys work for you (even if the experiment fails, or it’s awkward and silly; just laugh about it).
Problem #3: A Lack of Sexual Assertiveness
Even if they know how to please themselves, many women don’t feel comfortable sharing that information with their partners. We don’t teach women how to communicate sexually, so they often don’t even have the language to tell their partner(s) what does and doesn’t feel good. Messages from parents, schools, religious figures, and media teach women to be sexually coy and passive in an effort to be pleasing to men without offending their male egos. Conversely, we slut-shame women if they express too much desire, and we see them as too aggressive and “unladylike” if they show any sexual initiative.
Women must break away from these sexist ways of thinking, stop faking orgasms, and start demanding pleasure. Women shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what they need (such as asking their partner to go down on them instead of passing out after they orgasm), and start taking matters into their own hands (like touching themselves while having intercourse).
Women can’t hold themselves responsible for fragile male egos that may be hurt at the idea of focusing on the clitoris or incorporating toys.
And the reality is, most men will welcome the opportunity to please their partner, be grateful for instruction and feedback, and feel more successful when the sex feels amazing for their partner.
Problem #4: Playing with Unskilled and/or Shy Partners
If many women don’t know how to please themselves or how important the clitoris is to pleasure, it’s easy to imagine that many men don’t understand female orgasm either. They can’t really be blamed either, because nobody really teaches men about female pleasure (there’s certainly no Cunnilingus or G-spot Stimulation 101 offered in high school sex ed).
When they start having sex, female partners often fake orgasms, provide no feedback, and express no preferences whatsoever during sexual encounters. The only “sex ed” easily available to men is commercial porn, which shows what looks good on camera, rather than what feels good–especially for women–in real life. If the absence of other information or partner feedback, they’ll just do what feels good for them and hope that will work for their female partners, too.
Ladies, teach your partner what feels good. Gentlemen, get some real adult sex ed, watch some ethical porn, and do some R&D with your partners (see the “Solution” to “Problem #2” for more information about adult sex ed). Most importantly, don’t take feedback personally. If your partner tells you that what you’re doing doesn’t feel good, ask them what does, and do that. It’s simple.
There’s no such thing as a bad lover as long as you’re willing to learn about the partner(s) in front of you and what they like.
The only bad sexual partners are those who don’t make the effort to figure out how to give their partner pleasure. It’s not one-size-fits-all.
Problem #5: Uncaring Partners
Most men have at least some basic interest in pleasing their partners. But sometimes men, especially younger men when hooking up with more casual partners, adopt an air of indifference about their partners’ orgasms. One college student, for example, told a female interviewer face-to-face how he was “all about just making her orgasm,” but when asked if he meant “the general her or like the specific her?” he replied, “Girlfriend her. In a hookup her, I don’t give a shit.”
Avoid hooking up with men who will treat you poorly; take matters into your own hands and be choosier. Also, don’t reward bad behavior – if he was a jerk, don’t hook up with him again, and tell him why you’re not coming back. These men need to know that their behavior is unacceptable.
And guys, if this is you, really reconsider your attitudes toward your female partners, especially your one-night stands and booty calls. I mean, the better you are in bed, the higher your chances of getting repeat sex, maybe even referral sex.Don’t you want to build a reputation of being an awesome lover?
Learn about the clit. Care about the clit.
Problem #6: Anatomical Differences
Because of all of the above issues with society, much of partnered sex in heterosexual relationships focuses exclusively or primarily on penile-vaginal intercourse. Given this, the reason why some women are more likely to orgasm during this one activity than others has to do with their genital anatomy. Research has found that women with a smaller clitoral glans and a greater distance between their clitoris and the vaginal opening are more likely to be anorgasmic, as are women with thinner and shorter urethrovaginal spaces.
This suggests that women with clitorises closer to their vaginal openings have a better chance of having their clit rubbed “accidentally” during PIV and thus have a higher chance of orgasming. Additionally, women with thicker and longer urethrovaginal spaces may have an easier time getting G-spot stimulation (the area where the internal portion of the clitoris and the urethra get stimulated), so even without clitoral stimulation, they can reach orgasm more easily.
There’s not much we can do about our genital anatomy (though some have reportedly tried surgically moving their clitoris closer, with not much success in the orgasm department). While we can’t control the organization of our parts, we can get to know ourselves and what works for our bodies. If you need some other type of stimulation other than or along with PIV, or if there are particular PIV positions that work better for you, learn them and communicate with your partners. Be creative, and use it as an opportunity to explore your body alone or together.
As you can read about in the adult sex ed books like Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, the most important part of orgasm exploration is not to focus on the “result” of orgasm, but to instead focus on your sensations of pleasure. Don’t make it about the orgasm — if you’re already having a hard time orgasming, goal-orientation will often make it worse and increase orgasm anxiety. Just be playful, curious, and nonjudgmental.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of problems or solutions that cause the orgasm gap, so please share thoughts. Let’s work on this together!
Zhana Vrangalova, PhD, is a NYC-based sex researcher who studies casual sex, nonmonogamy, and sexual orientation. She holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology from Cornell University, teaches Human Sexuality at New York University, shares new sex research on social media, and runs the Casual Sex Project, a place for people to share their true hookup stories. She provides daily sex education using the live video streaming app Periscope, and is currently writing a book
about the science of healthy hookups.